South Africa tour and horror shows are synonymous

Pakistan’s journey in South Africa, so far, has been termed as a ‘horror tour’ and is this is not the first time that Pakistan’s tour of the Rainbow Nation has been such. In 1994-95, 1998, 2002-03, 2006-07 and 2013; all of them had been. Except for 2013, the rest of the tour not only witnessed some below average batting and bowling displays, but at the same time, a buzz was created off the field, which hampered the image of Pakistan cricket.

Saleem Malik lost his captaincy after that eventful tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1994-95, Rashid Latif went into hibernation after the 1998 tour, the rift between Wasim and Waqar was evident during 2002-03, while Shoaib Akhtar’s arrogance in the dressing room in 2006-07 only earned shame for Pakistan.  In 2013, the off-the-field issues were off, but on the field, the performance was dismal. Thankfully, Pakistan hierarchy kept the faith in Misbah-ul-Haq and stability remained within the team.

This time around, the mood in the dressing room seems down and obviously, after losing at home against New Zealand, digesting back-to-back defeats don’t help in boosting the morale. Mickey Arthur, the head-coach did not hide his dissatisfaction about the irresponsible batting performance of some of the senior batsmen in the team during first Test.

An upset dressing room

According to Grant Flower, “Mickey had some strong words with the players; there was quite a bit of honesty from him. I think the guys were a bit shell-shocked, but they’ve heard Mickey, everyone knows he can come down harshly on the boys at times. But sometimes that’s needed and the guys needed to be told a few home truths. Mickey won’t be the first or last coach to do that. If the guys do have strong character, they’ll bounce back from it and take that as a challenge”.

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But Mickey Arthur and co were surprised to know, how dressing room conversations got leaked. As ESPNcricinfo said, “Evidence of a breakdown in the morale of the camp further emerged following stumps on the second day, the one which oversaw a Pakistan collapse that all but put them out of the game, with a dressing room leak reporting coach Mickey Arthur had lost his temper with the players, in particular giving some of the batsmen an earful. Although the PCB later issued a statement denying Arthur so much as became angry, there is little doubt he did make his displeasure known, with Flower saying the real problem was the incident being leaked to the media”.

Flower stated, “We don’t know who it is [the leaker]. But they’ve got to look at themselves in the mirror. It should never happen. On tour, it’s all about teamwork, you’re supposed to be a family and trust each other. But I’ve been with the team over four years and there have been constant leaks all the time. It’s nothing new for me, so it doesn’t really come as a surprise”.

Also read: Pakistan batsmen fail, yet again

Flower’s words in front of the media had been mature enough and he balanced things well. No new stories cropped up after this like previous tours and the team went out in second Test to prove a point. Despite the words of Grant Flower “Have seen happier dressing rooms than Pakistan’s currently” ringing in the ears of Pakistan fans, they invested the faith in the same batting line-up, which collapsed twice in first Test.

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But the performance was the same. On Day 3, the Pakistani batsmen scored runs, which boosted their personal stats, but it failed to create an impact as South Africa sealed the series comfortably. What Pakistan required was resolve to take a healthy lead, but throughout the series, this has been missing from senior batters, except Shan Masood,who is the find of the series so far. Moreover, neither Pakistan bowled with an aggressive intent to test Proteas batting lineup.

It’s not the end of world, still

2-0 down. The moral is down. Sarfraz Ahmed and the selectors are in an enormous pressure. But Pakistan should look to rediscover themselves in Johannesburg. An inspiring performance at the Wanderers would do Pakistan a world of good to boost their confidence. But for this, they need to rethink about their strategy.

Pakistan need to change the batting order and give opportunities to some fresh faces, who deserve a place. As for example: Mohammad Rizwan. Rizwan has been in a splendid form and it is quite surprising that Pakistan still have not tried this guy in the middle order. So far, Rizwan has notched up 825 runs in his last 14 innings across first-class and List A cricket at an average of 92. They include scores of 141 not out, 98 and 73 against the England Lions, and 105 and 116 not out against New Zealand A. Technically and temperamentally, Rizwan is competent enough to face the heat of South African pacers.

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In a middle order, which lacks solidity, Rizwan can add a lot of composure. And to include Rizwan, Pakistan need to make a choice between Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq. Both of them have failed to prove a point, except Imam, coming up with a half-century at Centurion, otherwise, both of them looked out of ideas against South African pacers.

Also read: Shan Masood gives Pakistan hope

Why not try with Azhar Ali and Shan Masood as the new opening pair. Masood would be ideal choice and Ali – though has failed to deliver so far, but his experience would still be needed – can rediscover himself as an opener, because he averages 47 as an opener and 44 in the middle. Rizwan can come out at number 3, Asad at 4 and Babar at 5. And at number 6, Pakistan need to fit in an all-rounder.

In fact, Pakistan have someone like Faheem Ashraf in the side to play the role of a genuine bowling all-rounder. In Centurion and Cape Town, the absence of a fifth bowler was evident and what Pakistan required was a seamer, which Faheem could have provided. Again, he is a good batsman as well.

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Yasir Shah’s poor show might let Pakistan think to try with Shadab Khan,but it would not be smart enough to ignore a bowler who had just broke an 82-year old record and possesses an astonishing ability to fetch wickets. Yasir deserves another chance. Meanwhile, Mohammad Abbas can be rested and Hasan Ali can be played to add some cutting edge to the attack. It seems Abbas is still not fit enough.

Conclusion

“For the last Test, we need to bat like we did in the second innings here in Cape Town, we have nothing to lose. We need to be positive. But we also have to take 20 wickets otherwise we can’t win,” Sarfraz said such after losing the second Test. Indeed, Sarfraz needs to be positive and also, his team needs to show – they are ready to fight and are not afraid of the South African tracks and bowling attack.

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India lost first two Tests in South Africa last year. But they did not give up and came out with a lot more positive intent at Johannesburg. It was an epic fight back by Virat Kohli’s men at the Wanderers on one of the toughest decks of last year. India did not lose their hunger to win, but were courageous enough and gave their best shot on a tough track and won, which uplifted their confidence.

Pakistan and Sarfraz badly need a victory to get themselves going this year. And thus, they should take inspiration from India’s victory last year.

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